Memewatch: Chris Matthews was very sure of himself!


Then, his guest came on: Will we really go into “default” if we fail to raise the debt limit?

Last week, Erin Burnett and Savannah Guthrie were unprepared to discuss this point when Rand Paul presented them with the GOP’s standard position. But they were hardly to first TV stars to be stumped by this presentation.

In mid-September, Hardball’s Chris Matthews got waylaid by the GOP's standard pitch too! He interviewed Rep. Mo Brooks, a Republican congressman from Alabama.

Should we refuse to raise the debt limit? Before he actually brought on his guest, Matthews was loud and insistent and sure of himself. That would be a disaster!
MATTHEWS (9/18/13): I can't remember when a major political party did something like this, threaten the U.S. economy with a body blow that could kill the recovery, throw the market into a tailspin and whack our 401ks to a fare-thee-well. And what for?

No political leader of the left or right is going to agree to the erasure of his or her signal achievement in public life. Obama isn't going to do it, nor is his party, which has been fighting for health care and promising health care to its voters, as well as Republicans who have been paying attention, since the days of Franklin Roosevelt.

So what justification does the right wing of this country have for its senseless assault on the U.S. credit rating, which took a hit the last time they pulled this tactic? What's the end game except a period of days in which the world watches us as the U.S. discredits itself, followed by another depressing spilt-milk, face-saving gesture that means nothing, achieves nothing, kills whatever is in its path. This is how I look at it. And I hate to see what I see because I still believe, despite this hard evidence in the benefits and rightfulness of self-government.

Representative Mo Brooks is a Republican from Alabama. He supports using the budget or the debt ceiling as a way to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.
Good lord! Matthews was full of fire—before his guest got to talk. When Brooks began to speak, he stated the standard position:
MATTHEWS: Congressman, I respect your office. Congratulations on representing your district. My question is: what do you think will be the impact of a default on the U.S. debt?

BROOKS: Well, I don't think there will be a default on the U.S. debt. The total amount of debt of this country, interest payments are in the hundreds of billions of dollars. We have revenue that's in excess of $2 trillion. So there will be absolutely no default from our debt obligations unless the president of the United States willingly decides to set us on that calamitous course. Now, that would be his decision. Plus, the House has passed legislation that would make it clear that the debt obligations ought to be paid first, before everything else. So I reject your premise.
A bit less artfully than Paul, Brooks stated the standard position. Even if we don’t raise the debt limit, we’ll still have enough tax revenue coming in to service “our debt obligations.” Unless Obama chooses to spend the money on something else, there would be no need for default.

In fairness, Matthews almost tried to push back. But as it turned out, Rep. Brooks was much better prepared to discuss this issue than his multimillionaire host. According to Brooks, it all depends on what the meaning of default is:
MATTHEWS (continuing directly): Which economist have you gone to that told you that the secretary of the treasury was wrong yesterday when I heard him say that when the United States' receipts coming in go above what they're able to cover in the cost they have to put out, the spending they have to do, that there will have to be a default?

Do you believe the secretary of the treasury is lying? And do you have someone else who says we will not go into default? And if we go into default, what will you pay in terms of consequences? Will you say, “I guess I was wrong?” What will you do if that's wrong? Suppose you're wrong.

BROOKS: No. The White House is using political gamesmanship and wordsmanship. It depends on what the word "default" means. To most people, the word "default" means that you're not paying your debt obligations. That's what it means to me. You're not paying your creditors. And there's no way in the world that we would not have sufficient revenue to pay our creditors.

Now the president, in his discretion, in a government shutdown or in a no raise the debt ceiling situation, may decide that he doesn't want to pay our creditors. But understand, we still have— We're $2 trillion a year in revenue coming in. And our debt obligations are in the hundreds of billions. So if he pays those debt obligations then we're fine.

What the White House is using the word "default" is— They're saying the entire things that we want to spend money on, if don't spend them, that's default. That's the wrong definition.
This time, Brooks stated the standard position more clearly. Each year, we’ll have $2 trillion coming in. Our debt obligations are much less than that. If we simply pay those obligations, we won’t have a true “default.”

At this point, Matthews crumbled and failed. He issued a thoroughly jumbled response. This is a cable star’s brain on lack of preparation. Cover the eyes of the kids:
MATTHEWS (continuing directly): The Wall Street Journal lead editorial—just a minute. The Wall Street Journal lead editorial said that you're committing suicide. This is kamikaze. The other question I have to raise, if there isn't a debt ceiling, then what are we arguing about it? You said that the debt will paid. Everything will be paid. Well, then why are we arguing about this? It doesn't make sense what you're saying. It's illogical. Is there a debt ceiling?
First, Chris asked about (political) suicide. Then, he tried to get back onto the substantive question. But his questions made no sense at this point. By the end of that passage, Matthews was totally lost.

Eventually, Brooks extended his presentation in another way which seemed to make perfect sense. What will we do if we just stop borrowing more money?

This is what we will do, Brooks said. On its face, this makes perfect sense:
BROOKS: It's the same thing that governors have to do in the 50 states. If you have a legislature that has projected a certain level of revenue and spending, and they're wrong, and the spending exceeds the revenue, then you have something that's called proration and the governor then forces it to work. That's how we do it in the state of Alabama. That's how we do it in a lot of states.
That’s a bit murky, but here’s what it means. If governors don’t have enough revenue coming in, they have to start making cuts.

Every word of that is true, even including the word proration. Matthews, thoroughly decompressed, had nothing left at this point.

Matthews bumbled further during this session, but there you see it for the third time. Burnett and Guthrie were unprepared to discuss this seminal topic this past week. On September 18, Matthews was unprepared too.

It was classic millionaire journalism. He was loud and insistent and sure of himself. Then, his guest came on!


  1. The American public is very ready to cut the US military budget. Over the weekend, George Will said Republicans are distancing from big business and the military. Lots to cut in the military.

    1. It's too late to cut the budget, son. This is 2013, not next year.

    2. We're talking about the debt limit, happening in this fiscal year, on expenses that are already budgeted and incurred.

      Or don't you realize that?

      Your suggestion to "cut the budget" in reply to the debt limit is a non-sequitur.

    3. Anon 7:00. Many of us have explained that to Lionel, he doesn't seem to be able to grasp that concept.

  2. "And sir, perhaps not your state, but many states out there, have pretty poor credit ratings, at least relative to the sterling reputation of the USA's credit. Are you really suggesting that the executive of the USA should be saying "Well, we have, that is our Congress has, run up these bills, but we're not going to pay some of them -- We, we'll be just fine as long as we've got enough wherewithal to pay the interest on our credit card bill? We can just not pay some other things?" Isn't that really what you're saying -- just make sure to pay the interest on the credit card bill and let some other things go?"

  3. I don't think that there's a simple, canned answer to the question of what happens when the US can't borrow anymore. So, the figure of 200 or 250 billion in revenue includes the Social Security and medicare receipts, which are different from the general revenue; so, that's perhaps 35% of that. Now, I am sure the US can still service its sovereign debt. What I don't think that we'll be able to do is pay all of its bills. Now, we are talking about the money already spent here, e.g. war planes built, etc. I mean, this is just what springs to mind after a few minutes of thinking...which I doubt that Chris Mathews and his ilk are wont to do.

    1. Chris Matthews and his ilk -- ie virtually the entire rest of the media -- don't get that the GOPers are talking about having enough money to service the bonds, but not for the rest of the government's expenses and bills.

      It doesn't occur to them that this is the plan, that big chunks of the federal government have to be basically dismantled. That's what these people want, and media can't believe that's what they mean because it's so insane.

      Chris Matthews and the hapless Erin Burnett aren't alone on this.

    2. gyrfalcon, I think they get it very well.

      In fact, I haven't seen this big of a pushback by media in a long, long time.

      So how about paying attention to what they've actually been doing instead of reading Somerby;s cherry-picking and ass/u/ming it is the entire sum total of all media?

    3. Can you endure Maddow's theatrics?

      All kinds of whatever, but never mind how and who. We're left with "money managers, bankers, traders, and former government officials."

      So, sloppy and pathetic metaphors (Captain Ahab is Boehner? That Whale is.. who knows? His crew is... the loyal Republicans?).

      Anyways, 7:25, link somebody other than u'r bud ass/u

    4. Apparently, I do not spend as much time worrying about Chris Matthews, Rachel Maddow, and their "theatrics" as Bob and his tribe think I should.

      I am sure the "whaling boat" skit last night will give Somerby at least a week's worth of material, but you know what?

      I thought she and her staff were having a little bit of fun. Hardly the harbinger of the end of Western Civilization as we know wit.

  4. Here in Illinois we have a backlog of $6B mostly over 6 months old. This is down from $8B. Are we in default? Everyone gets paid eventually but the debt and state salaries are all paid on time. Is this what default looks like?

    1. Yes, yes it is what some type of default looks like.

      And it's a pathetic example.

      Are you honestly holding IL out as a hopeful example for the future of the USA?

      "Hey, the USA always pays... eventually." It should replace In God We Trust!

  5. Anon 2:57, Illinois, last i checked, had the worst credit rating of any state in the Union. Which is expected when you do not pay your bills on time, and which is why people do not want the US gov't to go into arrears on money it owes, even if it pays salaries and services the debt.


    Oh, and minor point, treasury cannot legally prorate bills it needs to pay.

  6. Anon 4:47 but is it default?

    Illinois doesn't prorate bills we pay in full just late. Some bills interest is paid others not. Again is it default?

    1. A technical default is not paying the interest on your bonds. That's what the GOPers are talking about. In common understanding, "default" means not paying whatever kind of bills when they come due. That's what Matthews and you and everybody else thinks the GOPers mean. It's not.

    2. This is anon 4:47, gyr is right about the confusion that the GOP counts on.

      Which raises the question that needs to be raised, what difference does it make what you call it, if you go into arrears you're not paying bills. Not paying the local electric company to provide juice to a federal building is by definition default, but if the GOP only uses the term to only mean defaulting on paying interest on gov't bonds they should make that clear. Meaning say out right, we have decided to NOT pay money owed to vendors, workers and contractors when it's due (as mandated by the contractual and federal regulations).

      Until now the US has never done that. And there is absolutely no reason to do it now. How the GOP thinks it's ok to go into arrears as long as the bond holders are kept whole is THE question. It's not ok, it makes us look like a banana republic, or maybe Illinois.

    3. This is a follow up to above, yes i understand the GOP has no intention of making that clear, which is why we have reporters who only need to ask this simple question: "Are you saying the US gov't should defer payment for debts owed to vendor and contractors?"

    4. Yes, if only the "media" will ask the brilliant questions WE think up!

      Boy, that one will force Boehner to tell the truth. Might even reduce him to tears!

    5. It's not a brilliant question, never said it was. It is an obvious question that would shed light on the decisions being made.

      Sort of what the "media" is supposed to be doing. But thanks for adding nothing to the conversation.

    6. Have you been watching your "media"? The pushback against the GOP in this shutdown crisis has been incredible! And no, not just on MSNBC.

      We've even got Bob Shieffer grilling guys who only want to repeate the lastest GOP talking points. And we had Anderson Cooper going nuclear on a Republican congressman who took umbrage at Cooper asking "tough" questions.

      But if your conditioned to believe that the "media" never takes on the GOP, never challenges the talking points, you probably missed it.

    7. Oh and this: If you think "people" are too stupid to understand the truth unless it is carefully and clearly presented to them in the precise words you want, go read some polls.

    8. Yes, i see them pushing back hard, then get confused by GOP talking points (see Bob's original message on this). "We'll have enough money to pay interest on the bonds...." there should be a simple follow up question to that "solution" and i've yet to hear it.

      I don't think people are stupid, nevertheless, i'd wager most do NOT understand the debt ceiling issue, Anderson Cooper apparently doesn't for example.